On April 30, 1945, Col. William O. Darby, assistant commander of infantry Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division during World War II, was killed in action in Torbole, Italy. Just a few hours later, 25 Soldiers carrying on with the mission drowned when their amphibious vehicle sank during a nighttime crossing of Lake Garda.
The bodies of the 25 were never recovered and only one Soldier survived that night, but the U.S. Army, true to its values, has never let these Soldiers sacrifice be forgotten. A memorial for the 25 Soldiers was built and the Col. Darby 40-Mile/12-Hour Ranger Road March Challenge stands to this day, a tribute to these brave Soldiers' sacrifice.
Five Soldiers from 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division (LI), completed the challenge on April 30 in Italy and were the first to do so while currently assigned to the division.
The group collectively beat the course record by four minutes with a total time of 7 hours, 4 minutes. That averages out to a 10 minute and 36 second pace throughout the 40-miles along Lake Garda.
"The team feels great about the race and beating the previous military record was a bonus, especially since it was held by a U.S. Air Force servicemember," said 1st. Sgt. Robert Stephens, first sergeant for B Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion. "Cpt. Kandy Heekin was instrumental in providing ultra-marathon knowledge and was just awesome in planning all the logistics that made this race a reality. She was also the driving force that spurred the team to a strong finish, after around mile 35, when the run became much harder mentally for most of the team."
The team trained for 8 weeks leading up to the race in order to prepare for the its grueling demands on the body and mind. Most training weeks included 20 to 40 miles of running, but the peak week totaled 60 miles.
Fueling the body while still moving forward was an integral part of the team's strategy. Cpt. Mary Schuster, F Company commander, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion, served as the team's support along the way. Schuster offered the food, hydration and electrolytes necessary to avoid anyone hitting the dreaded runner's wall.
The team saw the race as more than just a test of their own stamina and ability and hopes others will too.
"It was the opportunity to commemorate 10th Mountain heritage," Stephens said. "It was an honor to reflect on their sacrifice to our great nation through this unique opportunity. We hope that others see this run is seen as encouragement to always test your physical limits and to always strive to achieve higher goals."
The team was comprised of: Cpt. Kandy Heekin, former B Company commander, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion; Cpt. Matthew Wright, D Company commander, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion; Chief Warrant Officer 4 Chris Zamora, standardization pilot for C Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Caleb Bergeron, test pilot for C Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion; 1st. Sgt. Robert Stephens, first sergeant for B Company, 3-10 General Support Aviation Battalion.